I saw The Best Man the 1964 version for the first time in late 2008, during that presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain on Turner Classic Movies which was doing a special where they showed political movies all night one night a week in October. The Best Man is about essentially a divided party and they aren’t sure who they should nominate for President.
One candidate from the liberal or progressive wing of the party Henry Fonda and the other candidate played by Cliff Robertson coming from the more conservative wing of the party. It reminds me of political battles that the Democratic Party had back in the 1960s, 50s and 40s where a more progressive candidates like Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy or Hubert Humphrey going up against someone like Strom Thurmond when he was unfortunately a Democrat or George Wallace someone like that and of course the Progressive would always win at least going back to Woodrow Wilson.
And the progressive would always win because the Democratic Party going back to the 1920s or so has always been the liberal party in America, even though for a long time they’ve had a right-wing faction from the South and this movie was very realistic because it was an example of how presidential nomination battles were in the past up until the 1970s or so, where you didn’t know for the most part who the party would nominate. And these things would be decided at the convention because the convention delegates could then vote for whoever they wanted.
The Best Man was a movie about looking in to what presidential politics looked like at least into the primary process of what presidential candidates go through and have to do in getting nominated for president even the dirty politics of it where both candidates know that the convention is split. And that they both need an extra edge to put them on top and they both find potential scandals in the others past. With the Henry Fonda character, his scandal was about him seeing shrinks or being on medication for depression.
With Cliff Robertson who was the right-winger a big believer in traditional values. His potential scandal was pretty ironic because apparently he had a homosexual affair when he was in the military and both candidates knew that if their scandal got out that their chance of winning the presidential nomination were over right there. So it became a question of who would leak the story about the other first or not leak the story and they spend a lot of the movie, trying to scare the other one and get them to drop out of the race, the Cliff Robertson character even offers the vice presidential nomination to the Henry Fonda character if he drops out.
To me the The Best Man represents presidential nomination contests the way they used to be and should be when conventions actually meant something and they were worth watching. Especially if you’re a political junky like myself, because you didn’t know who the convention was going to nominate for president until they held vote and I wish we got back to that type of convention for both parties. Today political conventions are more of a formality and realty TV more than anything else, the presidential nominee already has wrapped up the nomination now by March or April.